Story by Jessica Ramsey
Photographs by Donald Komondy Photography
As the trees turn green and the flowers start to bloom across the area, here at the Animal Park, we are all taking a deep breath and preparing for an exciting summer. A year of COVID-19 restrictions has left us looking forward to a summer filled with laughing children and families enjoying the park and all it has to offer.
We recently started a new adventure: our Self-Guided Safari Days. These specific weekend days are designed to be the perfect opportunity to enjoy the Animal Park without the need for reservations. We’ve already hosted a few this spring, and it has been a huge joy to meet some nearby locals for the first time, plus new visitors from all over the region. We invite everyone to come visit! Of course, you can still schedule a private tour, limiting the number of folks you’ll meet along the way and still choosing how you spend your time in the park.
Walk the quarter-mile park tour paths and enjoy our bobcats rolling in fresh herbs and practicing their parkour moves off the trees. Join the lions in a chorus of mesmerizing “oofs” that will be sure to shake you to your core. Make sure to stop by and see playful young Mazie and Zehra, the caracals who turned a year old in May. Howl with the wolf pack. And don’t miss visiting our three young lion boys, who are quickly growing into their manes. Enjoy them playing tag or sunbathing with their incredibly patient mom.
While our education room remains closed, some of the animals in it will be coming outside to meet visitors. Simon the ball python enjoys the sunshine as much as anyone.
Outside the park, we put the quiet months of lockdown to good use, adding roughly one and one-half miles of walking trails in the woods by our Visitor Services building. Anyone who has been feeling a deficit of fresh air and nature will relish this addition. These trails are perfect for amateur hikers, birdwatchers, or those who enjoy taking in the beautiful scenery and wildlife North Carolina has to offer. The shortest trail is a fun way to let the kids burn off some energy, and the longest trail includes wooded hills, creeks and a trek past our pond before it ends up at the wildflower field.
That field and the green space nearby are the focus of our Wild Under the Stars nights, which are stargazing events timed to best observe astronomical events like meteor showers after dark. Spread out and enjoy what our summertime dark skies have to show you with the park’s nighttime serenade to keep you company. Overnight camping spots are available for some events. Check our website for details and dates.
We are excited about expanding our outdoor picnic space by building a concession stand. We aim to have the stand up and running by mid-summer and offer delicious treats to enjoy in our green space or at our picnic tables. Of course, packed picnics are always welcome.
All across the park and grounds, as we work hard to spring clean, prepare animal habitats for the summer, and plant new flower beds and gardens, there is a breeze of fresh air that seems to be uplifting everyone enjoying the outdoors with us. So, make a day of it — see the Animal Park, enjoy a picnic lunch, hike the trails, and plan to come back soon!